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ACCA Strategic Business Leader (SBL): Attempt it step-by-step

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

ACCA Strategic Business Leader (SBL) has already been introduced to replace P1 (Governance, Risk and Ethics) and P3 (Business Analysis) in professional level since September 2018.

Generally, SBL pass rates ranged between 45% and 50%, which are a little bit lower than either P1 or P3.

As it is a four-hour exam, the examiner has said the approach to this exam is different from others and each student should pay attention on how to complete the exam by managing their time wise.

In this article, I would like to share with you on how to attempt the new paper. You can also click HERE to understand more about SBL exam.

Recap the key points in Strategic Business Leader (SBL) paper

Under the new professional exam structure, SBL is introduced and it is 1 of essential papers in professional level.

In our earlier update, the new structure was detailed. Here we recap the 6 key points in SBL paper (Refer to article of ACCA Exam Structure Evolution on Sep 18: Advices that you can't miss) –

  • It is a 4-hour exam. It includes reading, planning and answering of the questions.

  • You are given 1 case material (about 10 pages) and assignments to be answered.

  • These assignments or tasks may require you to take on various roles of organisational leaders, consultants or advisers to senior management, depending on the situation.

  • Fundamental knowledge of Strategic Business Leader is widely covered from prior exams.

  • Technical marks share 80% and another 20% goes to professional marks.

  • Suggested number of study hours are 50% more than other paper in the same level in view of the wide coverage.

SBL syllabus mainly were adapted from existing P1 and P3 while there are also new areas in which it assumes students could bring forward the knowledge from previous levels examinations.

They are mainly from F1 (Accountant in Business), F5 (Performance Management), F7 (Financial Reporting), F8 (Audit and Assurance) and F9 (Financial Management).

ACCA has already issued 2 specimen exam papers on SBL.

It gives a lot of hints to both tutors and students on how the formats are and what the approaches to handle this paper.

What are the suggested steps to attempt SBL?

Step 1: Time to allocate in planning and answering question

For ACCA professional level exam, it is always true to plan how to answer a question before writing something on the answer booklet.

You have 240 minutes to attempt SBL. But, you no need to spend all the time to write.

On the other hand, you need to allocate your time to read the materials, analyse the requirements, plan how to answer the questions and write your answers.

Given your reading speed is on average, it is advised to spend 40 minutes to read through whole case study materials.

Details can be referred to: How to successfully attempt the exam.

It is suggested to firstly read through each of the requirements before you go into details on the reading materials.

In addition, it is not advantageous to skimming through the materials as you no matter to read them again later.

Then, you will have 200 minutes to analyse the requirements, prepare how to answer and write it down.

Since 20 professional marks will be earned through the way you structure and show your answers, you have 200 minutes to gain 80 technical marks.

Therefore, you have 2.5 minutes per 1 mark in SBL.

Step 2: Analysing requirements with reference to specimen exam questions

The next step is to analyse each requirements before planning how to answer.

In my tutoring experience, I find quite a lot of students practicing many questions from past exam papers.

They are comfortable if the exam format and questions are similar to what they have practiced.

I do the same too.

However, I find the style of 2 specimen papers are not the same, in view of the length of requirements.

In specimen 1, technical marks are ranged from 5 to 15 in each requirement. Download by clicking: Specimen 1

But in specimen 2, the gap between each requirement is much narrower. Technical marks are ranged between 6 and 12. Download by clicking: Specimen 2

So, it is very important to you to analyse each requirements in details and plan your answer, especially you are required to write concise and precise.

Here is an example showing how important of analysing requirements

I choose Specimen paper 1 question 1 (a) to show how to analyse requirements.

First of all, what is your role stated in the requirement? And, who are the audience?

You are a consultant writing a report to the directors of DCS Company.

It determines your tone in the answer.

Next, part (i) asks you using an appropriate model to analyse two things, industry and market which DCS Company is competing in.

The models that are appropriate here including Porter’s five forces and PESTLE.

Either one of them can be chosen to answer.

Part (ii) requires students to evaluate the performance from Integrated Reporting (IR) view.

You have to know six capitals of IR to answer.

There are estimated to have around 10 regular used question verbs, such as list, define, discuss, evaluate, analyse and so on.

You need to understand their meanings and pay attention on how to answer.

Another important job you need to do during requirements analysis is about the mark allocation.

Under our time management rule, 2.5 minutes per 1 mark so that –

Part (i) 37.5 minutes

Part (ii) 30 minutes

Students are stressful during exam, it is advised to keep your mark allocation approach simple and consistent.

Step 3: Planning the answer structure

After analysing the requirements, a lot of students would start to write down their answers.

However, I find it is the most effective and efficient way to have good results because you need to plan so that you can answer well by following the plan.

What I am saying to plan is you need to plan your answer structure.

Recall our example shared in Step 2 above, you can jot down the structure by bullet points as below –

You can find the plan above should accurately reflect what the requirements are.

Headings and some bullet points are helpful in organizing your answer better.

Remember making bullet points or simple notes in this step is fine, no need to be very detailed.

Step 4: Writing your answer

After 40 minutes reading on materials, analysing the requirements and planning the answer structure, you are now ready to write your answer.

Two important aspects in SBL exam are repeated, technical marks and professional marks.

Technical marks is about the contents relevancy to the requirements.

Professional marks, on the other hand, can be managed well by following the points below –

  • Keep sentences short and concise but accurate and complete;

  • Let the answer easier to read and mark by leaving space between paragraphs;

  • Referencing appropriately for any supporting numerical analysis;

  • Headings and sub-headings are always important to illustrate clearly of your points and ideas.

There is a very good article published by ACCA explaining how to earn professional marks. If you are interested in this topic, you can read the article in the link below:


From Sep 18, the new ACCA exam structure will be effective. A new paper Strategic Business Leader (SBL) paper will replace two existing papers which are P1 and P3.

SBL is a 4-hour exam a broader syllabus as compared to other papers in the same module.

In addition to existing P1 and P3 papers, SBL also requires students to bring forward what they learnt from F1, F5, F7, F8 and F9 in this exam.

ACCA suggests 50% more of studying time for Strategic Business Leader than normally required for other exams in this level.

On the exam day, you should follow the steps mentioned in this article to handle this 4-hour exam.

First step is to allocate time in planning and answering questions.

It is estimated 40 minutes are spent on reading the materials and the remaining 200 minutes are for analysing requirements, planning the answer structure and writing on the answer booklet.

Second step is to analyse each requirements.

You need to identify your role and who are the audience which determine your tones and format to earn professional marks.

In addition, you need to find the key verbs for ideas on how long and how depth of your answers will be.

Next step is planning the answer structure. Headings and some bullet points are helpful in organizing your answer better.

Final step is writing your answer. You are better to keep sentences short and concise, the purpose is to make it clear to read and follow.

As SBL is 1 of essential papers in professional level, it is important for you to present your answers in a nice and professional way.

You are not only earning as many professional marks as possible, but also training yourself to become a real professional accountant.

If you find this article is helpful and you want to help others too, just share it in any social media (such as Facebook, LinkedIn).

#ACCA #StrategicBusinessLeader #ACCASBL

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